Enveloped by the Spirit of God

He really could have been voted “Least Likely to Be a Superhero” in high school. His tribe wasn’t the strongest tribe. His clan within the tribe was the weakest clan. And he, by his own admission, was the least in his father’s house.

What’s more, when it came to encounters of the divine kind, though he had a propensity toward faith and a desire to obey, he was also prone to putting out a fleece and obeying under cover of night for fear of man. Like I said, not exactly superhero material.

But I’m reminded it’s the kind of material God likes to use for superhero works.

Chewing on Gideon’s story in Judges 6 and 7 this morning. Did so last year as well. Something about this tale of an unlikely hero that grabs the imagination and drives home the principles that God chooses what is weak in the world to shame the things that are mighty (1Cor. 1:27) and that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2Cor. 12:9). These truths accentuated as God takes Gideon, one of “the least of these,” and sends him into battle. Not with the 30,000 men who showed up for army duty, nor with the 10,000 who remained after the “fearful and trembling” were dismissed, but with only the 300 who were short-listed on the basis of how they drank water, not how they wielded the sword. If anyone could have worn into battle an ” I Will Boast of the Things That Show My Weakness” t-shirt, it would’ve been Gideon (2Cor. 11:30).

So what was the secret sauce? What turned this less-than-ordinary guy into such a hero? What enabled him to do what naturally he could never had done? Where did the boldness come from? How about the military insight and wisdom? What took his mustard seed of faith and his dripping fleece and grew it in something that would soundly defeat the formidable, allied armies of two great peoples? The Spirit of God, that’s what.

Now all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. But the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet . . .

(Judges 6:33-34a ESV)

The Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon. More than just coming upon him (NIV, NKJV), the Spirit enveloped him (CSB). He took possession of Gideon (NLT). Gideon stepped out in faith, went forward in battle, and emerged the victor because he was attired with the Spirit of God.

The same Spirit who dwells in the believer. The same Spirit infused power that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11). The same Spirit sent to Jesus’ disciples to be their Helper (Jn. 14:26). The same Spirit who helps in our weakness (Rom. 8:26). The same Spirit who makes war with, and enables the defeat of the flesh (Gal. 5:16-17). The same Spirit who is given as a guarantee of our inheritance until we fully enter into our victory in Jesus (Eph. 1:13-14).

Not many of us would have been voted “Most Likely to be a Superhero.” But in Christ, and through the enabling power of the indwelling Spirit, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Rom. 8:37).

No super powers, just enveloped by the Spirit of God.

Amen?

By His grace. For His glory.

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Do Not Fear, Only Believe

They were the words he had hoped he would never hear. The words he had done everything he could think of to avoid. He would give up everything, even his good standing among the religious elite, if could only find something that would prevent those words from being spoken. And so, this elder in the local synagogue publicly broke with the scribes and the Pharisees and fell at the feet of Jesus and begged Him for help.

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”

(Mark 5:23b ESV)

But despite his desperation, despite his best efforts, despite risking his reputation among those who wielded power in his religious world, he still heard the words, “Your daughter is dead” (Mark 5:35).

And I’m chewing on what was going through the mind of Jairus, one of the rulers in the synagogue, as he processed those words. As he took in what he heard and tried to make sense of them in light of what he had just seen.

Jairus was quickly leading Jesus, along with the crowd that thronged around Jesus, to his house to save his daughter. And then Jesus stopped. Just stopped. As in, He wasn’t advancing toward the sick little girl anymore. Instead, the Man who was his last hope turned about in the crowd and asked, “Who touched My garments?”

What? He couldn’t be serious! With all the people pressing around Him who was He looking for? And how long would He delay in order to find that person?

And then she stepped forward. The women who had touched Jesus’s garment. The woman who had suffered with a chronic condition for over 12 years. The woman who had heard about Jesus. The woman who believed that if she could just touch the hem of His garment it would be enough to heal her and do what scores of physicians had failed to do. The woman who ultimately delayed Jesus from rushing to the side of Jairus’ daughter.

And Jairus had seen her come forward. He had heard her testimony of being made well by just reaching out her hand to touch Jesus. And had heard Jesus say to her, “Daughter, your faith had made you well; go in peace . . . ” (5:34).

Jairus had seen a miracle. But then, he heard those words he never wanted to hear, “Your daughter is dead.”

Overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

(Mark 5:36 ESV)

Jairus had seen the Master’s power in the woman healed. But he had also heard the dreaded words from his daughter’s bedside. “Why trouble the Teacher any further?” the bearers of bad news asked. Good question. And I can imagine Jairus being uncertain what to do. Rend his garments, fall in the dust, and try and deal with his broken heart right there and then, or keep going with Jesus? The fear of failure could have been paralyzing.

Isn’t that how fear works? The unknown has a way of making things unsure. The dread of confronting what we sought to avoid can cause us to curl up in a corner. But Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.” Believe in Me. Believe that I’ve got this, regardless of how it turns out. The faith you had when you came running to Me is the faith that will sustain you as you follow Me. For I AM the antidote for fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

(1John 4:18 ESV)

Jairus heard those words he worked so hard to avoid hearing. But he believed and kept going with Jesus. He walked by faith and found that fear became less of a factor.

And after hearing words he never wanted to hear, he went home and saw something he never thought he’d see, and heard other words he could never have imagined hearing, “Little girl, arise” (5:41).

Because of God’s grace. All for God’s glory.

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Mouths Wide Open

Like an old, familiar friend it jumps off the page this morning. That’s the beauty of God’s enabling to read through the Bible each year — you’re never more than 365 days away from old friends. From familiar passages made familiar again. From truths, subject to fading memory, brought back into focus. From admonitions which have a way of keeping things on track. From encouragement desperately needed to stay in the game and keep running the race. From life-giving promises connecting you anew to the life-giving Promise Giver.

Like encountering an old friend, a promise and I pick up from where we left off last year. No small talk. Just getting down to the heart of things. My soul revived as my lack of faith is rebuked. My weakness shored up by His power. Experiencing a peace that passes understanding because of a God who continually makes Himself known. Lips, naturally pursed because of life’s stresses, supernaturally loosened as they give way to a mouth wide open.

I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

(Psalm 81:10 ESV)

The songwriter had just warned his listeners about looking for love in all the wrong places (81:8-9). He had admonished God’s people to keep their distance from “strange gods”; to beware of bowing down to “foreign gods.” Whatever itch they thought they had that only idols could scratch was a lie. A gaze-averting, life-draining, soul-starving lie.

The God of their deliverance from slavery was the God who could amply supply all their needs. The God who had shown His might by breaking the chains of bondage was the God who had the power to deliver water from the rock and bread from heaven. The God who promised to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey was the God who also promised to sustain them as they sojourned in the desert.

All that they needed to bring to the table was a mouth wide open.

Their head’s tilted toward heaven, directed to things above and not things of this earth. Their gazed fixed on the Sovereign who is seen only with the eye of faith, fully convinced that God is able to do what He has promised. Their pursed lips loosening as a belief response to the reminder that if God is for us, who, or what, can be against us? Their mouths coming wide open knowing again that if the God who did not spare His own Son gave His own Son up for us all, “how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

Read that again: He is ready to “graciously give us all things!” Believe it again!  And assume the position. Mouths wide open!

No one can fill us like the Father. Nothing satisfies like the Savior. No spring quenches the thirst like the Spirit.

Ours is to stop looking for love in all the wrong places. To stop seeking our identity and our satisfaction in inanimate idols. To stop desiring bread that can never fill us and stop drinking from fountains that will always end up creating more thirst.

Instead, we need to sit down with old friends, like this promise, and believe. And then receive . . . with mouths wide open.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A “How Long O Lord” Song

It’s not a happy song. Not gonna set your toe to tapping. It’s a sad song. A lament.

I’m guessing it was written after the Babylonian invasion. Also referred to as the Chaldeans, these nation conquerors had added Israel to their list. They had encroached for years. Took their time as they laid siege to God’s great city. Even taking over the throne in advance of taking over the land with their puppet kings. But eventually, they had “come into” God’s inheritance, had defiled His holy temple, and had laid Jerusalem in ruins. All the while they had poured out blood and taken life, feeding the bodies of God’s people to the birds and their flesh to the beasts. So many dead that there was no one to bury them (Ps. 79:1-3). And to add insult to injury, insult was added to injury:

We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.  

(Psalm 79:4 ESV)

It had been hard, really hard. And it had been going on for a long time, a really long time. And there was no apparent end in sight. So, the songwriter pens a song — a “how long O Lord song.”

How long, O LORD? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire?  

(Psalm 79:5 ESV)

It’s not the first “how long O Lord” song in the Psalter. David had penned a couple:

How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?  

(Psalm 13:1 ESV)

How long, O Lord, will You look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!  

(Psalm 35:17 ESV)

And a guy by the name of Ethan the Ezrahite would write another:

How long, O LORD? Will You hide yourself forever? How long will Your wrath burn like fire?  

(Psalm 89:46 ESV)

And as I chew on it, I’m guessing we’ve all sung a “how long O Lord” song at one point or another. Finding ourselves in a trial that just keeps on trying us. Enduring hard stuff that never seems to get easier. Waiting on God to step in. And yet, heaven seems disinterested. No apparent resolution in sight. Not quite sure what to do, but also not quite sure how long we can keep going the way we’re going. How long O Lord?

Sometimes, as in this song, there’s a direct correlation between our sin and our suffering. Asaph & Co. had been warned repeatedly by a myriad of prophets that Israel’s spiritual infidelity would not be left unjudged if they refused to repent and return to their first love. But they refused . . . and continued to rebel . . . and the walls came tumbling down, literally.

But other times there doesn’t appear to be a cause and effect connection. Nothing that clearly says you’re here because you did that. Instead, life sometimes is just hard. Sometimes God’s permits stuff in our world for purposes that only He understands. And though we may not know why we’re in the fire, nor have any indication of when things will cool down, something I remember from Hebrews reminds me of what good can come of it.

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? . . . For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.

(Hebrews 12:7, 10 ESV)

God disciplines, or trains, those He loves. It’s in the “how long O Lord” seasons of life that, if nothing else, we learn to lean into Him, His power, and His promise. It’s then that we realize how powerless our self-sufficient strength really is and, in our weakness, know experientially the almost tangible power of His sustaining grace.

If nothing else, it’s when we learn to trust to the next level–internalizing what it means to lean not to our own understanding, to acknowledge Him in all our ways, and to somehow rest, with a supernatural rest, that He will, in fact, direct our paths (Prov. 3:5-6).

Nobody likes to sing a “how long O Lord” song. But everybody’s sung it . . . or will some day.

Father, use the song in Your people to draw them to Yourself. To trust in Your steadfast love, and to, even in the storm, rejoice in Your salvation (Ps. 13:5).

By Your grace. For Your glory.

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Subdued, Divided, But Not Settled

Continuing to read in Joshua . . . the less exciting part . . . the mapping out the land part. The big battles are done. For the most part the desert wanderers delivered from Egyptian bondage have moved in. What’s left is the housekeeping: who’s gonna sleep where.

Two statements of fact caught my attention this morning:

Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them.

These are the inheritances that Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel distributed by lot at Shiloh before the LORD, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So they finished dividing the land.

(Joshua 18:1, 19:51 ESV)

There’ a certain ring of finality. The land lay subdued and they finished dividing it.

Battles had been fought and the LORD had been faithful and the promised land was now subject to the people of promise. They had dominated and now it was under their control.

The surveying had been done, the borders set, and the deeds handed out. The plan was finished. The cities and territories allotted. All that was left was to move in.

But if you know the rest of the story you know that, though the land had been subdued and the land had been divided, the land was not yet settled. Getting to the promised land was just the beginning of learning to live in the promised land. There was still work to be done — hard work. There would be traps to navigate, battles to be fought, temptations to resist, and trials to encounter, endure, and overcome. While in one sense the work might have been finished, in another, it was just beginning.

But they wouldn’t have to navigate this foreign terrain on their own. It’s not like God delivered them on the doorstep and said, “See ya’ later!” In fact, there was still a ton to learn about the dynamics of living with a holy God in their midst, of living as His redeemed inheritance, and of living ever to make His name known.

And I can’t help but think that’s not unlike where we’re at today as His people.

To be sure, the work is finished and the victory won. We’ll remind ourselves of that increasingly over the next couple of weeks as we focus on the passion of Christ and the empty tomb. And to be equally sure, all God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ, He is our Yes and Amen, and there’s a sense in which we have already arrived–having received life and life abundantly. So, we too, have subdued the land and divided it–possessors of every spiritual blessing and already seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3, 2:6). But isn’t there still a lot of settling in to do?

While the work is finished there’s still a lot of work to do. Though we are more than conquerors there are still battles to be won as we figure out how to walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, and wage war against the old nature with the Spirit. Though we are infused with heavenly power we still struggle with earthly weakness. Though we have been made whole in Christ we still suffer in the flesh. Subdued, divided, but not settled.

And then, we’re trying to working through what it means to live in community with others who are also just settling in. Strangers we now call brothers and sisters as we try and do family together. Not necessarily brought together by natural affinity or interests,  but woven together in common life–life wrought through the gospel.

Made righteous in Christ, but so aware of each other’s unrighteousness. Declared holy, but rubbing shoulders together as we are being made holy. Perfect in Christ, but works in progress until perfection comes. Subdued, divided, but not settled.

In the kingdom. Navigating the kingdom. Still appropriating the kingdom.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Little Leaven

When you know how the story’s going to turn out, the first time you encounter this in Joshua you can’t help but cringe. And then, every subsequent time it happens there seems to ring an ominous bell tolling a warning that this just won’t turn out well.

And my combination of readings this morning remind me that was true way, way back then, when Joshua was leading the people into the land, and what was true way back then, when Paul was writing to the Corinth church, is true today as well. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

The first cringe worthy encounter during this morning’s ready occurred in Joshua 13.

Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day.

(Joshua 13:13 ESV)

And it’ll happen again in chapters 15, 16, and 17. For whatever reason, God’s people are not able to rid the land of the old ways. God had told them through Moses to “devote to destruction” all that breathed in the cities the LORD was giving them, “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God” (Deut. 20:16-18).

And that’s how things started with conquering the land–a clean sweep. But then, for whatever reason, complete victories became partial victories and increasingly the people and practices of the land took root in their midst.

And, if you know the rest of the story, it just didn’t turn out well. The remnant which should have been dispossessed became thorns in the sides of God’s people. Their gods becoming a snare entrapping them in spiritual infidelity. And, within a generation, everyone ended up doing what was right in their own eyes. (Judges 2:3, 17:6)

Fast forward centuries to Corinth and the thorns and snares continue to compromise the people of God.

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

(1Corinthians 5:7-8 ESV)

The Corinthian Community Church, while have a lot going for it, apparently put up with some stuff they shouldn’t have. While boasting of it’s loving tolerance, it ended up tolerating the wrong thing. Something that, left unchecked, would spread. Something that, if not addressed, would bring increasing compromise.

Though they were a “new lump”, a body of new creations in Christ, if the old leaven of malice and evil was not dealt with it would spread and choke out the new way of walking in sincerity and truth. And, just as it had with God’s ancient people, if they refused to eradicate the ways of the world that encroached from without they would, without doubt, eventually crumble from within.

How come?

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

(1Corinthians 5:6b ESV)

How we as the church today need to be aware of this eroding dynamic.

In an age where the pressure has never been greater to bow to the world’s subjective, untethered views of truth, and when the terms tolerance and endorsement have become synonymous, we need great discernment as to how to love the world but not be infected by the world.

And part of that discernment is protecting the purity of the body of Christ. To deal with the old leaven of malice and evil when it’s detected. To lovingly, yet firmly, call brothers and sisters to repentance. To engage in other’s lives with a view of being used in their restoration. That we might celebrate together Christ our Passover “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  To promote the healthy, life-giving, fruit-producing leaven of being who we are in God’s Son and of standing firm for what we believe on the authority of God’s word.

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Compassion of Christ

He knew it would blow His cover. After all, He knew everything.

He knew that healing this leper would change the very nature of His ministry–that He would no longer be able to “openly enter a town” but would have to hang out in “desolate places” and have the people come to Him. He knew it. But He did it anyway.

In the past, my primary observation when reading of the cleansing of the leper in Mark 1 has been that Jesus touched the leper. He could have just commanded the leper’s healing, but instead the Christ chose to touch him. The perfect skin of the Son of God coming in contact with the diseased skin of a man marred by sin. The touch of the Creator come in holy flesh felt by the creation on his destroyed flesh.

And then I ask myself of this observation, “How come?” Why did Jesus touch the man rather than just speak his healing into being? Answer: because Jesus was “moved with pity” (Mk. 1:41). And I invariable end up in awe afresh at the compassion of the Savior.

Literally His “bowels were moved.” At His deepest core Jesus was moved by the sinner’s plight. The uncleanness. The loneliness. The hopelessness. And so the Divine reached out His hand and and made contact with the defiled. Oh the depths to which Jesus would reach compelled by love, compassion, pity, and mercy.

But this morning I’m struck by the fact that more than just making a leper clean, more than risking being viewed as defiled Himself by touching him, that Jesus, for the sake of the compassion he felt for the man, was willing to also, in a sense, compromise His ministry.

And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to Him from every quarter.

(Mark 1:43-45 ESV)

By my nature, I’m a risk mitigator. I tend to try and look down the road, anticipate pitfalls or areas of sub-optimization, and make decisions that will avoid the risk or minimize the impact of something going wrong. If I had been Jesus, knowing full well that the guy who stood before me wanting to be healed had a reputation around town as Loose-Lips Louie, I might have taken a pass. Might have left him in his miserable condition. Might have rationalized that for the sake of the greater good, for the sake of protecting the ministry, for the sake of continued ease of access for the many, that leaving this one in bondage to his disease was a pretty good cost/benefit decision. Thank God I’m not Jesus!

Jesus was moved with pity (ESV). He was filled with compassion (NIV). Deeply moved (MSG) He looked at the carnage sin had wrought on the man before Him and was willing to respond . . . even if it meant touching his dirty skin . . . even if it meant adding fuel to the fire for His detractors . . . even it meant altering His approach to ministry and having to hang out more in desolate places. Even if it meant hanging on a Roman cross — and it did.

Oh, the compassion of Christ! Oh, the love of God! Oh, the depths of grace!

That we too would experience the touch of His hand.

And that He would come not to be served, nor to minister at His convenience or in a manner that would benefit Him most, but that He would come to serve and serve out of deep compassion for the sinner. Come to serve, even giving His life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

What wondrous grace! To Him be the glory!

Amen?

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